Friday, August 25, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse

What an event! And what a lot of data! I'm still waiting for dataloggers I sent to Texas, so there'll be more to report on by next week. But here's a first stab.

Rachel safely observing the solar eclipse
So Rachel and I traveled to the Ontario Regional airport to launch a near spacecraft and to observe the eclipse. Frazier Aviation is the FBO of the airport and had set up a really nice solar eclipse event. I brought a few science instruments and the gear to launch a near spacecraft. And with the help of attendees, we were able to gather a lot of really nice data.

The sun was active with at least groups of sunspots.
The solar telescope I brought made it safe for the families flying in to observe the progress of the eclipse. I was quite surprised by how active the sun was on the 21st. That's a good sign that the solar corona will be anything but small and symmetrical around the sun.

Successful launch number 173.
It was easy to round up volunteers for the balloon filling and launch. Since the launch took place at an airport, we had to be scheduled for take off like the airplanes and jets at the airport.

Leaves on trees and bushes make great pinholes.
Several changes were noticeable as totality approached. For one, every where you could find a pinhole, you would see a crescent sun. Shadows changed in appearance, also.

Shadows had fuzzy edges before the eclipse.

As totality approached, shadows grew darker and their edges sharper.

My first total solar eclipse. It's a shame it only lasted 88 seconds. However, the solar corona was just amazing to look at. It was spikier than my picture would indicate (Fiji FinePix). 

A Bailey Bead was visible in the the solar telescope. Look at the right edge of the sun for a break. A Bailey Bead is where a mountain or crater peak is obscuring the sun. 
Shortly after totality ended, Rachel and I headed out on the chase. The balloon reached 90,496 feet before burst and landed 23 miles away from the Ontario Near Space Port.

At 60,000 feet, the balloon changed directions (towards the west) and slowed down.
APRS position reports from the balloon  trackers where received throughout the flight with no drop outs. The same couldn't be said for Internet service over smart phone. That left us without an adequate map to find a convenient route to drive to the near spacecraft. So we had to drive home and regroup. Fortunately, Internet service at home is good and I as able to discover the nearest road was actually only 1,000 feet away from the near spacecraft. So I drove 16 miles back to the recovery site to get my stuff back.

Little did I realize that the balloon was 700 feet above the road! 
This was probably the most difficult extraction I've ever encountered. The mountain was steep in many places and filled with scree. At times it was one step forward and two steps back. Or pick yourself up and fall over again. The extraction process took over two hours on account of the difficult terrain and that fact that only one person was hauling out the equipment. 

I'm going through a lot of data now, but you can expect more reports on this near space flight soon. There were some surprises in the results and a few lessons learned. I hope to apply those to the next total solar eclipse in 2024. Meanwhile, it's time to prepare presentations and at least one article.  

Onwards and upwards

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